Leadership Imposter Syndrome
The Impostor Syndrome happens when you begin to feel that your success isn’t really you and that others may begin to think you are a fraud. It stems from a feeling of not being good enough, strong enough, pretty enough, fast enough, smart enough… Whatever.
Almost all of us, including and perhaps especially leaders, have experienced moments like these throughout our lives. Self-doubt creeps in and self-confidence leaks out at crucial moments the higher we climb our career ladders.
I remembered it took me eight months to confront my own Impostor Syndrome before finding courage to finally start the Leaders Create Leaders community. “What would others think about me if I screw this up?” was the question holding me back.
How it Happens
Since we were young, we were trained to develop our self-identity from and through others; we were cheered on and loved when we learned how to ride a bicycle, score a goal, pass an exam, or get a job. This self-identity, as defined by others, is often brought along into our adulthood subconsciously. We may not realize that we are measuring our self-worth through the eyes or through the metrics of others — even and perhaps especially those we love.
As a result, we may question ourselves in the mirror to the point of having an Imposter Syndrome— a self-deprecating psyche — and let go of interesting and exciting possibilities as we become anxious about losing our dignity and appearing as fools in front of others.
To a young child, adults are their leaders and super heroes. To them, we somehow have super powers that can perform amazing feats like cooking, driving and solving math problems like wizards. It feels as if the grown-ups are not like us at all, even when we become the grown-ups.
And then, it may seem incomprehensible that grown-ups and leaders also have our own fears, challenges, sorrows, anger, jealousy, envy, guilt, and disappointments in our lives. We know from the inside all the things that are wrong with us, but have a very limited view and understanding of the reality of others.
What We Can Do
The way to overcome the impostor syndrome is not so much of doing self-incantations, repeating to ourselves countless times in the mirror “I am amazing!” or “I am worth it!,” but in recognizing and acknowledging that we are not alone and that maybe we are all fools, albeit dignified fools. Comfort creeps back
in as we let go of the fear of being discovered a fool when we acknowledge that as common knowledge.
Contrary to traditional leadership concepts of being the perfect role model for your team members, leaders can also be a great role model by showing our imperfections. Leaders can help alleviate the Fraud Syndrome, which is another name for it, when we can find courage to show our vulnerabilities to our team members and our peers.
We let go of the state of being in perfection as the basis of our self-identity and anchor it on the journey of perfecting. There is liberation and relief in discovering that the leaders whom the team members are so impressed by and look up to are much more like them than they think.
This also applies to leaders who start to feel stressed out when comparing ourselves to our peers who seem much more successful and happier than us.
When leaders are able to create an open and authentic team culture, team members will then feel more connected with each other, safer to try new things out of the box, and confront their Impostor Syndrome with more courage, humility, and normalcy. We are, as it turns out, not so unusual in doubting ourselves. It’s quite likely that we are all fools, albeit dignified fools.